The need for a global commitment to combating the causes and the symptoms of international terrorism was tragically highlighted on 11 September 2001. International terrorism has a long and horrific history, but the sheer scale of loss of life, fear and economic devastation caused by those attacks helped create the overdue consensus necessary to agree a comprehensive international response. The international response, in the shape of UN Resolution 1373, calls on all states to work to create permanent barriers to terrorism, from its funding to its methods of operation.
A new framework of executive and legislative and executive actions against terrorism is being constructed around the world. This Bill will ensure Ireland does all it can to make the framework as effective as possible and we stand in solidarity with our partners in the EU and the UN in working to ensure terrorists are denied both the means and the opportunity to carry out further atrocities.
Major advances in technology, increased financial flows and cheaper transport costs are characteristic of increasing globalisation but have proven to be deadly enablers for international terrorism. The international terrorist threat today stems from the activities of networks based in several countries that exploit legal loopholes arising from the geographical limits of investigations. Such loopholes have allowed international terrorist groups the freedom to organise, fundraise and carry out atrocities. Perpetrators of terrorism in one country have frequently used other states as safe havens for fund raising. They have received training abroad, used foreign countries as launching pads for their operations elsewhere and found refuge in sympathetic regimes and secretive banking systems. Their availability to take advantage of this enabling international environment has allowed them to kill, maim and terrify innocent people.
Terrorism can take many forms from threats to people's lives to kidnappings and hostage takings, bodily harm and murder. It can involve the destruction of private or public property. New forms of terrorism are constantly appearing as terrorist groups become more and more sophisticated in their methods. Cyber-terrorism and biological terrorism are examples of such a new threat. We must ensure that we have effective measures to deal with all forms of terrorist threat. The determination to counter international terrorism in all its forms is at the heart of the EU framework decision and the UN convention on terrorism which is implemented in this Bill.
The EU framework decision on combating terrorism is the result of increased co-operation at European level in this area over many years and increased commitment among member states to tackling the terrorism threat in the wake of 11 September. The European Union has long been concerned about the need to improve co-operation among member states with a view to combating terrorism. Article 29 of the Maastricht treaty specifically refers to terrorism as one of the serious forms of crime to be combated at EU level by developing common action in the fields of police and judicial co-operation and by approximating, where necessary, rules on criminal matters in member states. Terrorism was also specifically referred to in the conclusions of the European Council meeting in October 1999 and in the European Council meeting in June 2000.
The comprehensive action plan against terrorism agreed by the European Council on 21 September 2001 focused on formulating an appropriate response to the terrorist threat highlighted by the attacks in New York. The plan was arranged under the following headings, enhancing police and judicial co-operation, developing international legal instruments, putting an end to the funding of terrorism, strengthening air security and co-ordinating the EU's overall actions. Since then a comprehensive range of measures have been adopted in the implementation of the plan, including a political agreement in December 2001 of a framework decision on combating terrorism, which was formally adopted by the Council in June 2002.
The significance of the agreement of the framework decision is evident in the fact that prior to its conclusion the majority of EU states did not have specific legislation on terrorism. Of those which had, only four, Spain, Greece, the UK and Portugal, had adopted a definition of terrorism in that legislation. The definitions adopted varied from country to country, as did the scale of punishments imposed. In addition, persons held responsible for offences who were outside the state of the judge or court responsible for dealing with the case could only be brought to trial through the extradition procedure.
The framework decision represented EU level agreement on a common definition of terrorist groups and terrorist offences, on the adoption of common maximum penalties for different categories of terrorist offences across all member states, and the abolition of the formal extradition procedure between member states for bringing those accused of terrorist offences to justice.
The framework decision also established that a member state, which under its law does not extradite its own nationals, will be required to establish jurisdiction over terrorist offences and offences of instigating, aiding, abetting and attempting to commit a terrorist offence when committed by its own nationals on the territory of another member state or against another member state's institutions or people. To enable prosecutions to take place in such cases, the decision states that the member state in which the offence or conduct was committed shall forward to the competent authorities of the other state all relevant files, information and exhibits and that the requesting state shall be informed of the initiation and outcome of any prosecution. It is this level of political commitment to addressing the administrative and legal gaps that terrorists groups can exploit at present that is vital to ensuring an effec tive European response to international terrorism.
The framework decision represents an EU level agreement on a definition of terrorist groups and terrorist offences, something that has proven difficult to agree in negotiations on each of the UN conventions related to terrorism. The agreement of common definitions and penalties relating to terrorism in all member states will ensure that there is no soft jurisdiction in the EU in which terrorists can operate. It will also ensure smoother cross-border co-operation in dealing with terrorism. The definition of terrorist offences as those which are "intentionally committed by an individual or a group against one or more countries, their institutions or people with the aim of intimidating them and seriously altering or destroying the political, economic or social structures of a country" is a fair and workable one. I agree with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the main Opposition spokesperson that this definition by no means poses a threat to the peaceful anti-globalisation movement or other protest groups.
In giving effect to the EU framework decision on combating terrorism, we will make provision, for the first time, for terrorist offences as a separate and distinct category of Irish law. We will improve our procedures for police and judicial co-operation with other member states. We will adopt common EU maximum penalties for terrorist offences and we will be confident that we are playing our part in establishing a determined, concerted and effective European response to the threat of international terrorism.
This Bill also ensures that we meet the United Nations call for all states to ratify all relevant terrorism conventions as soon as possible. The Bill creates specific offences in Irish law for the purpose of each of the three conventions on terrorist bombings, hostage taking and crime against internationally protected persons. It also ensures that we meet the requirement to take extra territorial jurisdiction in certain circumstances. It builds on the strength of existing Irish legislation and procedures for dealing with terrorist offences and ensures that gaps between existing offences specified in Irish law are filled. In adopting these provisions, we will ensure that we conform to the highest agreed international legal standards for dealing with terrorism.
The financing of terrorism is an area of great concern, particularly in the context of the massive increase in international financial flows in recent years. Tackling the financing of terrorism is vital if we are to prevent future atrocities as the number, scale and lethality of acts of international terrorism is dependent upon the financial resources that terrorist groups can raise. Any national or international strategy to combat the terrorist threat must seek to stem the flows of financial support to terrorist groups. Only if all states implement effective procedures to monitor and control cash transfers and to improve their bank disclosure procedures can the international com munity be confident about its ability to trace terrorists and their benefactors, yet prior to the agreement of the UN Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism there was no agreed multilateral legal instrument which expressly addressed the financing of terrorism.
In implementing the provisions of the UN convention, this Bill will create a new offence under Irish law of financing terrorism, which will ensure that our financial institutions are legally required to play their part in preventing, detecting and reporting suspicious financial transactions, which may relate to the financing of terrorism. It will enable the courts to freeze and confiscate funds used or allocated for use in connection with the offence of the financing of terrorism or funds that are the proceeds of such an offence. It will extend the provisions of the Offences against the State Act relating to the property of unlawful organisations to that of terrorist groups. In short, it will ensure that we have the most sophisticated procedures for identifying and tracing the financing of terrorism and for punishing those guilty of financing terrorism and receiving funds which are being used to finance terrorism.
The remarkable speed with which the UN Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism has been signed and ratified by member states illustrates the level of international commitment to implementing effective measures to starve terrorist organisations of the means to carry out acts of violence. By the time the convention came into force in April 2002, 132 countries had signed it and 26 countries had completed the ratification process and become state parties. Today there are 68 parties to the convention. In implementing its provisions we can be confident not only that we are fulfilling our responsibility to the international community but also that the international community, in the guise of the growing number of other states which have ratified or are in the process of ratifying the convention, are fulfilling their moral and legal obligation to us.
State parties to the convention are obligated to bring their laws into agreement with the convention and to develop and implement mechanisms to meet the standard it sets out. They must also ensure that criminal acts covered by the convention will, under no circumstances, be considered justifiable, for example, due to any political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic or religious considerations. The convention obliges state parties to prosecute offenders or to extradite them to the parties which suffered from their illegal acts. State parties are required to co-operate with and assist other states in investigations and preventative efforts. For example, a state party may not refuse a request for mutual legal assistance on the grounds of banking secrecy. In becoming a party to the convention, we will form a part of an improved international legal framework for suppressing the financing of terrorism.
If we are to combat terrorism in all its forms, we must not only choke terrorist groups of funds, we must also starve them of volunteers. We must ensure that the actions of those who eschew peaceful, democratic methods of dispute resolution and use lethal and indiscriminate violence to further a political goal meet with the severest penalties available to us as legislators. I welcome the fact that extended maximum sentences for terrorist offences are provided for in the Bill. I know other Members have called for minimum mandatory sentences as well. This is the road we reluctantly went down with drugs legislation.
Whatever the outcome, we must send a clear message to those who would contemplate participation in or financing of terrorist groups that the personal consequences of their actions will be severe. We must bring to justice those who plan, prepare or perpetrate terrorist acts and those who provide support whether it be in the form of financing, logistics, training or other support for terrorist acts. The Bill will increase our ability to do that.
The legislation also represents Ireland's role in adopting the highest internationally agreed level of measures to combat international terrorism. In passing it, we will be in good company with our EU partners in adopting the provisions of the framework decision and with those states that have already become party to or, like us, are in the process of becoming party to the UN conventions on terrorism.
As much as it is vital to implement the most stringent security measures possible at national and international level to defeat terrorism, we must always remember that we will not defeat terrorism by security measures alone. The international community must do all in its power to tackle the underlying causes of terrorism. We must ensure that the elimination of world poverty and injustice, the peaceful resolution of disputes and the creation of a greater understanding between different cultures and faiths become greater priorities in the year ahead.
Poverty, injustice and marginalisation from the global trading system help to create sympathy for terrorist movements among many of the four fifths of the world's population that live in—